Hooked, line and sinker
Big-game fishing off Canada’s Prince Edward Island reels in the world’s most dedicated anglers
FISHING chat along Prince Edward Island’s north coast mostly concerns ‘‘ big blue’’, the Atlantic bluefin tuna.
It’s one of the supreme trophies of game fishing and they don’t come any bigger than the giant bluefin found in the deep waters of the Gulf of St Lawrence. The tiny harbour of North Lake at the island’s eastern tip has earned its title of ‘‘tuna capital of the world’’ by virtue of being one of the few places you can land a giant bluefin weighing more than 1000 pounds (450kg). And anglers on the island might hook such huge bluefin on a day charter close to shore.
Any tuna talk inevitably includes mention of the longstanding world record catch on rod and reel, a 1496lb ( 678kg) monster landed by Ken Fraser in 1979. And there’s the perennial hope of catching an even bigger fish, the one that got away . . .
‘ ‘ In September 2011,’’ writes North Lake fisherman Cor Keus in his log, ‘‘aboard our charter boat the North Lake Breeze, while on a fishing charter from California, [we] caught and released a giant bluefin tuna that was 133 inches (338cm) long, with a girth of a full 100 inches and an estimated weight of 1662 pounds. This giant fish is still swimming free, waiting to be caught by you and claimed as a new world record.’’
That’s the irresistible challenge luring sports fishermen from across the world who are willing to pay $C1000 ($948) a day to cast their lines off Canada’s smallest province. The height of the tuna season is July to October and there are now 22 charter outfits operating from a dozen north shore harbours, taking clients into the gulf and the Northumberland Strait between Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia.
It wasn’t always thus. Local fishermen used to consider bluefin tuna a pest, according to local historian Walter Bruce, a pioneer of the north coast charter fishery.
‘‘The first tuna landed in North Lake Harbour was in 1967,’’ he says. ‘‘At that time bluefin tuna were called horse mackerel by the locals and were thought to be a nuisance fish as there was no market for them and they tore holes in Breakfast: Charlottetown Farmers Market (9am-2pm Saturday, and Wednesday in summer) is a great place to rub shoulders with islanders and indulge in local or international dishes for breakfast or lunch. More: charlottetownfarmersmarket.weebly.com. Treat: The local Cows ice cream is made according to a secret recipe ‘‘dating back to the time of Anne of Green Gables’’. The dairy treat has been rated Canada’s best in a Reader’s Digest survey and world’s fishermen’s nets. Back then when we first landed tuna we paid someone $10 to bury the fish after the trophy pictures were taken.’’
The Atlantic bluefin tuna ( Thunnus thynnus) can put up an incredible fight. ‘‘It might take 10 minutes to land the tuna, or it’s taken us upwards of 101/ hours,’’
2 best by tour operator Tauck. There are 32 flavours, including Calfe Latte, Gooey Mooey and Wowie Cowie. Stores at Peake’s Wharf , Queen Street and Cavendish. More: cows.ca.
At the urbane Lot 30 says captain Bruce Keus of North Lake Charters. The sport’s been described as ‘‘90 per cent preparation, 9 per cent disappointment and 1 per cent success’’.
Bluefin tuna fishing is tightly regulated, with strict regional quotas governing the annual permitted tonnage. Bluefins caught in Charlottetown, owner-chef Gordon Bailey salutes local produce with his five-course seasonal degustation menus featuring oysters, mussels, scallops and lobster, plus island pork, lamb and beef. More: lot30restaurant.ca. off Prince Edward Island are so heavy they soon exhaust the territory’s commercial allocation.
‘ ‘ Occasionally, but rarely, there’s a lucky draw for a second tag. Most clients wanting to actually land a tuna and get their picture beside it will request or book this years in advance,’’ says Keus. Artisan distillery: Julie Shore puts a whole new spin on the humble mashed tuber with a signature potato vodka from her small Hermanville distillery in the northeast. She also distils wild blueberry vodka, rum and a superb gin. More: princeedwarddistillery.com. Brewery: The island’s only brewery is the Gahan House Pub & Brewery in Charlottetown. Seven beers brewed in the basement include Island Red Amber Ale, Sydney Street Stout and Iron Horse Brown Ale. A beer-tasting tray is offered in the pub above. More: gahan.ca.
Recreational fishing is catchand-release. The thrill is the battle to tire the tuna enough to reel it in. It can’t be taken, so trophy photos are quickly snapped over the side of the boat. Barbless circle hooks help minimise damage to the fish and the number of hook-ups a day on each boat is regulated.
‘‘The rules this year say a maximum of four per day,’’ says captain Jamie Bruce, of Bruce Brothers Fishing Charters. ‘‘Since we advertise half-day trips, we can release one in the morning and one in the afternoon, with the allowance of one lost fish each trip.’’
More gentle fishing adventures include three-hour trips in search of mackerel, cod, herring and other edible surprises that may pop up from the deep. Any small fish caught during a deep- sea mackerel jigging charter can be filleted, bagged and eaten on shore.
But there’s really no need to go offshore for a local seafood seduction. The ‘‘Gentle Island’’ of the travel brochures, with its undulating fertile pastures, sandy shorelines, red cliffs and picturesque clapboard lighthouses, has won a gourmet reputation and shellfish is the No 1 attraction.
Lobster is synonymous with local tourism, only slightly less iconic than Anne of Green Gables, but, like the tuna, was not always loved. ‘ ‘ Don’t talk to me about lobster,’’ growls a wiry old salt nursing his Iron Horse brown ale in a Charlottetown pub. ‘‘When we were kids, Mum packed us off to school with lobster sandwiches. I mean, like every day of the week. How the richer kids scorned us. Lobster was food for poor folks.’’
Diners today hand over $C30 to $C65 for a slap-up lobster feast. At New Glasgow Suppers, lobsters are priced according to size and meals include all- you- can- eat mussels, chowder, salad and bread rolls. Large bibs are essential. It’s a similarly sumptuous affair at the Lobster on the Wharf in Charlottetown and Fisherman’s Wharf in North Rustico.
All local oysters are malpeques ( Crassostrea virginica) but this doesn’t stymie endless debate over the virtues of Raspberry Point oysters versus Johnny Flynn’s from Colville Bay or how these stack up against Cooke’s Cove or Osprey Point. Regardless of provenance, a dozen tangy, creamy malpeques sure hit the spot, as do the sweet and tender blue mussels, a vital component of the burgeoning local aquaculture industry, which produces about 80 per cent of Canada’s mussels.
Four culinary touring routes — the North Cape Coastal Drive, Green Gables Shore, Red Sands Shore and Points East Coastal Drive — offer the chance to taste top-quality vegetables, fresh berries and fruits, prime island beef and poultry. The seasonal choice in seafood includes arctic char, mackerel, halibut and flounder, oysters, mussels, hard, soft and bar clams, sea urchin, rock and snow crabs, eel and periwinkles. There’s also fresh river trout and salmon.
A $C65 five-course degustation at Lot 30 Restaurant on Charlottetown’s Kent Street showcases the the bounty. Gordon Bailey champions local produce and tweaks his menu daily according to availability. The pan-seared scallops in carrot butter are heavenly; a baked arctic char comes stuffed with leeks, endive and spinach; and an organic pork duo, seared and barbecued, is a reminder this lovely island has as much to inspire off the land as from the ocean.
Two luxurious B&Bs, the Inn at Bay Fortune and the Inn at St Peters, also offer fine dining experiences. Popular, more affordable seafood restaurants include Richard’s Seafood at Covehead Harbour, Carr’s Shellfish in New London, the Blue Mussel Cafe in North Rustico and Water-Prince Corner Shop and Lobster Pound in Charlottetown.
At Maxine Delaney’s charming country restaurant The Pearl in North Rustico, meanwhile, I am served a steak grilled to perfection by chef Andrew Millar, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of Canada in Charlottetown.
Island-bred beef tenderloin is served with local potatoes and vegetables, and there are berries for dessert. It’s a fine example of locavore dining.
Trophy photos are often snapped over the side of the boat as recreational fishing is catch-and-release
Bringing the catch ashore